- A Concise History of the Third Reich
Wolfgang Benz directs the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technische Universistät in Berlin. He has written excellent books on both Germans Jews and German antisemitism and has now authored a brief history of Nazi Germany for a series entitled Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism. Benz focuses this tome on readers who are "looking for concise but reliable information" (p. xvii) and strives for as readable an account as possible in a short book. This study does not offer any new information or new interpretations [End Page 178] of the Third Reich, and there are a plethora of books, both long and short, on Germany's horrifying twelve years. Benz has included numerous photographs—more than in any other general synthesis—that supplement the story and provide readers a look at some of the people and events prominent during the Nazi years. The pictures are interwoven in the text so the reader does not have to flip back and forth, but on the other hand, the pictures do sometimes make the book choppier than it needs to be. Benz also provides a few biographical sketches of major Nazi figures that are again intertwined in the chapters to give the book a textbook feel.
Benz eschews a strictly chronological approach for a thematic one. This method allows him some analysis but might prove confusing for those who have little background on Nazi Germany. The style does permit Benz systematically to cover domestic politics, foreign policy, daily life, the murder of the Jews, resistance, and so on, but given the brevity of the sections there is not room to cover each specific section adequately. There are some sections in each chapter where Benz displays his thorough knowledge of the material, but in other cases readers have to wade through a variety of names. To cite just one example, Benz lists thirteen popular entertainers in a paragraph, but I am certain that the readers to whom this book is intended are not familiar with any of them (p. 73). Trying to encompass all aspects of the period in under three hundred pages is impossible, and I fear some readers may be lost by the number of details at such a fast pace.
At the heart of any study on Nazi Germany rests the question of how arguably the most cultured nation in the world embraced a movement that was so menacing to so many. Benz ably discusses both the Nazi hierarchy that swayed some of the Germans and the Germans themselves—some of whom were fooled into believing that Hitler would save Germany and others who were more prescient than many non-Germans in seeing the danger of the regime. The problem is that the reader cannot get a sense of why some Germans envisaged the Nazis as positive while others saw them as a great peril. The approach also limits the number of connections readers can make between and across the analytical sections. Reactions to the Nazis ebbed and flowed depending on a number of factors from domestic to foreign policy. Benz explains in his chapter on resistance Carl Goerdeler, the Kreisau Circle, and the plot on July 20, 1944, but resistance took different forms at different times, and readers might not understand the politics of resistance by having it isolated from other factors. I also found only a passing mention of the Warsaw ghetto; other principal events during the time were also discussed in a cursory way.
Benz considers the Holocaust in about twenty pages, and the portion devoted to the war years covers less than half the book. Again, it is impossible [End Page 179] to do justice to any of the themes Benz has chosen, but the treatment is more encyclopedic than analytical. Too often the book chronicles a litany of facts and events, and it is difficult to understand human motives or the circumstances surrounding decisions. Benz explains in the beginning that his aim is not to touch on...